Brown was born on July 11, 1935, in Latexo, Houston County, Texas, a small town that couldn’t be found on a map by 1973. Earlene’s father was a ‘6-footer’ who played semi-pro baseball in Texas with the Negro League. She grew up as an only child, and her parents divorced in 1938.
Brown followed her mother, who was part of the second Great Migration of Southern African-Americans to California, and moved to Los Angeles, where she began participating in track and field activities as a member of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1943.
She competed and excelled in the basketball throw, which was followed by the shot put. Brown, then 21, joined the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in 1956. Des Koch taught her weightlifting, and Steve Seymour, America’s original javelin technician, coached her in shot and discus. Seymour was convinced by Brown’s throw that she had the potential to win a gold medal and decided to send her to the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. Because the Browns were unable to cover Earlene’s training and travel expenses, Brad Pye Jr., an influential sports editor for the Los Angeles Sentinel and African-American community activist, spearheaded a fundraising campaign to assist her.
Brown began her career with the Tennessee State University “Tigerbelles,” whose coach, Ed Temple, was also the Head Coach of the United States Olympic Women’s Track and Field Team. Temple spent time preparing Brown for the 1960 Olympics. Brown became friends with Wilma Rudolph during this time. Brown won a bronze medal in the women’s shot put at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
She retired from shot put competition in 1965. She began skating the same year. She earned the nickname “Brown Bomber” while playing blocker for the New York Bombers Roller Derby team. She returned to her beautician practice in 1975, after retiring from all athletic endeavors. She died on May 1, 1983, at the age of 47, in Compton, California.
Brown was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame posthumously by USA Track and Field (USATF) on December 1, 2005, during the Jesse Owens Awards and Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Jacksonville, Florida.